A Long Way From Paris Mountain: Reflections on Home

In what seems like a first cousin of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, I keep coming across the idea of home as I meander the world wide web. A couple of weeks ago, perhaps out of homesickness or maybe because of something I read somewhere, I began to reflect about the meaning of home. Then, I came across Wendell Berry’s latest essay at The Atlantic and a couple of articles at The American Conservative that are related to the idea of home in one way or another. So I wanted to write on the three senses of home that I perceive as I live 6,000 miles away from the place of my birth.

Home is the dirt you love. 

That’s a country boy’s way to say home is where your roots are. It’s the place where you were born and raised. It’s the place where you can drive somewhere and upon arrival wonder how you got there; you know the roads so well you don’t even have to think about where you are going. This is the place you get homesick for when you are away, even if you are away for years.

Last week I saw someone post a photo on Facebook that said, If you can’t see Paris Mountain, then you’ve gone too far. My first five years were spent at the base of Paris Mountain in Greenville, SC and my roots run deep here—the mountain is named for Richard Pearis, an ancestor on my paternal Grandmother’s side, who first came to Greenville in 1765. I definitely can’t see Paris Mountain from my little corner of Turkey; sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone too far.

Toprak is a Turkish word for land or soil, but Turks also sometimes use it to refer to someone from their hometown or village. That person is of the same land. I wrote to a friend the other day because I needed to communicate with some from the same dirt as me. I needed to talk to someone who knows the gravel of Pleasant Hill Road. Someone who knows the steam coming off Lake Robinson on a cool Blue Ridge morning. Someone who understands the joke, “sometimes I drive to North Carolina just to litter,” but also understands that we really drive to North Carolina for Saturday lunch at Green River Barbecue. I needed to talk to someone who understands why I miss this home. He, too, has moved away from South Carolina for a season.

In this first sense, home is the place in the world where you belong. You belong because you are of that place. You are native. You know it and they know you.

Home is where your bed is.

In this sense, home is wherever our family currently resides. Home is the place where I can walk around in my underwear. Home is where I have unalienable refrigerator rights. Home is where I hear the pitter-patter of a toddler running and the high-pitched squeals of baby laughter. Home is where my bed is—because that’s where my wife sleeps.

Home is where the grocery clerk knows my son and asks where he is whenever he doesn’t accompany me. Home is where Hudson chooses the park we go to by the color of the swings. Home is where we love particular people. Home is where our neighbors are.

Home is where I sit in my rocking chair and read the Bible in the morning. Home is where we sing songs over breakfast. Home is where we read stories. Home is where we pray.

I love South Carolina. But I’d rather be home where my bed is than anywhere else in the world.

Home is not of this world. 

In one of the above linked-to articles, Gracy Olmstead makes the point that we are always tempted toward discontent. People who stay close to home feel trapped; this place is boring and I need to get out to be happy. People who move away pine for the good life that once was. The reality is that every place on earth is flawed. We long for the happiness of home, but aren’t sure where to find it.

Enter C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Home—man’s true home—is not of this world, but of the world to come. We are made for God. We are made for Heaven. We will never find full satisfaction elsewhere. God does, however, in His kindness, give us tastes of the future glory. So when I long for red clay and blue mountains, God is giving me a taste of Heaven. Heaven will be material, made of real stuff. I think there will be mountains. I hope I get to play in the dirt. When our family gathers after dinner most nights to enjoy silly dancing and loud music, God is giving us a taste of Heaven. We will live forever with other Image-bearers. We will sing. We will laugh.

At that time we will be truly home. Until then, I will continue to be torn between two homes, thankful for both, and fully invested in the toprak that happens to be between my toes at any particular moment.

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